SAGINAW, Texas — When he came to Tarrant County, it seems that Chad Cappiello set his sights on Saginaw.
"He knew exactly what to do. He knew how to make you feel comfortable," homeowner Cindy Tumlinson recalled.
Tumlinson, a teacher and mom, had been wanting to do a remodel of the master bathroom in her home. She did some web searches for contractors online, and she believes that that is how she became the target of Cappiello.
"It's really hard to admit when you have been tricked," Tumlinson said.
Homeowners were cold-called after searching online
Cappiello cold-called Tumlinson's house one day, offering to do remodeling work. He gave his name as Chad Russell and claimed to have a company called Extreme Contracting out of Dallas. Tumlinson said he visited their home and did sketches of the work, and she handed over some $5,000 to him to get started on the project. But nothing was ever done, and he stopped returning calls.
"It just breaks your heart how cruel and callus he was with other people's money," Tumlinson said.
Kathy Smith, another homeowner in Saginaw, was also targeted by Cappiello after searching online. She thought she had a signed contract for a brand new kitchen.
"I borrowed the money from my 401(k)," Smith said.
But he disappeared with her $15,000 and never performed any work. She said she has lost all the money.
Sentenced to 47 years in prison
This week, Cappiello was sentenced to 47 years in prison for his crimes. Tarrant County prosecutors built their case and discovered that he had been operating the same scam in multiple counties.
"Make no mistake, he was a scam artist," prosecutor John Newbern said. "He moved all over the state. When he had his fill of victims in one county, he'd move on to the next one."
In Tarrant County alone, he scammed at least five people out of some $60,000. They believe there could be more victims who never reported thefts. Some of the victims were elderly people who spent their life savings on remodeling projects that were never performed.
"Handicap accessible bathroom remodels," prosecutor Nathan Martin said. "We had victims that would pay $5,000 for 14 new windows that were never delivered."
7 ways to protect yourself from contractor scams
Victims Tumlinson and Smith said they're glad that he's being locked away so that he can't continue his pattern of scams. And the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office released several tips for homeowners to try to avoid other scammers:
- PRESSURE TACTICS: Watch out for pressure tactics like "limited promotional offers" or any tactic to make you decide on a bid immediately.
- DON'T PREPAY MORE THAN 10% OR $1,000, whichever is less.
- GET TWO BIDS and preferably three or more. Low-ball offers can be a warning sign.
- CHECK REFERENCES with other people who have had work done by the individual.
- GOOGLE to check sites like the Better Business Bureau that list any complaints or problems. In Cappiello's case, he used an alias, which made this difficult for homeowners to see his past negative reviews.
- BUILDING PERMITS: For a significant job, ask to see the building permits. If contractors can't be trusted with that, can they be trusted with the whole project?
- USE A CREDIT CARD if possible for initial payments. Some victims have had success disputing charges for work that was never delivered.